Tag Archives: Gunnar Gunnarsson

Welcome to the 21st Century, Gunnar

 

Gunnar argued for the independence of Iceland during Germany’s military struggles of the 1940s, on the principle that the land is written in the chain-linked patterns of the Icelandic sagas, with the suggestion that the Icelanders wrote the sagas in response to the chain-link rhymes of the land.

Grundarfjördur

His observation is obvious. Equally obvious is how poor a tool such observations are for deflecting a military conqueror. Less obvious is the point that when you are from the land and have nothing and yet have to do something, you use what you have. Still, the approach has its dangers. It might stress one form of pattern, for instance, but it obscures another. So, let’s look at Gunnar’s saga again. This time, note the story of trolls and ogres written in the rock.

Gunnar was a humanist, a twentieth century man. This tale of ogres and epic battles is one he could have told as well, including how it generates the water of life as cold passes into warmth. That he didn’t is an example of how writers adapt to their audience. It is also an example of how we can re-read them, and free them… and us.

 

Living Among the Ruins: Italy and Iceland

This is the kind of thing that annoyed the Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson in 1928. This is Hadrian’s Villa, built in the year 134 near Tivoli, in what is now Italy. He thought it was too bright.He meant that this man and his politics were wrong for Scandinavia (which, to him, included Baltic Germany):

Mussolini Rejects Democratic Rule in 1928

He also meant that this version of Hadrian’s Tivoli villa was the wrong approach to art:

The Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park in Copenhagen

Gunnar didn’t see art as a populist entertainment. He was after something else. This is the architecture he liked:

Landhus Farm, Fljótsðalur

You could consider it a part of the landscape, he said. Almost all the houses of this type are ruins now, but not like Hadrian’s ruins:

Like this:

In the 1950s onward, the Icelandic government gave away trees, as part of a nationalist program of rebuilding the eroded landscapes of the country. Out of the same impulse as Gunnar, people planted them on the sites of their former turf houses, leaving the hills, the intended recipients of the trees, bare.  The government keeps a few turf houses as museums:

Farmhouse Window,  Bustarfell

It is the same impulse that drove Gunnar from the Tivoli Gardens. He considered that mixing northern culture, an expression of northern land and climate, with a southern one would destroy it, such as the German Reich’s turn from a people’s culture, based on farm life, to an Imperial one, as documented in the image below.

For Gunnar, independence meant to have no masters at all, and the point of modernity was to refine old folk ways. He shared that with the Italians and Germans of his day. He was more clear than they were, however, on the price of Imperialism and power exercised as force. It’s too bad he didn’t speak more clearly about this, but at least we have the ruins…

Buðahraun

… to speak…

… for him …

… now:

Sandgerði

Reykjavik is Hadrian’s Villa.

Icelandic Austerity is Beautiful

Time and again, Gunnar wrote that poverty is the greatest wealth. Here’s an example from his childhood fjord. Here, every farm i needed a source of fresh water. The smaller the farm, the more precarious the source. Here’s the water source of a small croft near Bringubakki.

Look how the water flows with life within the remains of winter’s cold, just as the life flows through the family that brings it into their house. This small, austere pleasure of this correspondence is a great richness.

The Thing About an Island

Where there are waves, there is a shore.

They are all different shores.

Some are within you.

You are within some.

Some are bits of drag from the sky moving off the sea and over the island.

Others are the sky taking the island to sea.

These are the shores of life. Gunnar used them as a symbol of Christianity and the hard choices of ethics.

He refused to accept that they were in our control, as strongly as he knew we must cross them.

But that’s why you go to Iceland, right?

To learn your place?

Gunnar Turns Over in His Grave

In March 1940, Gunnar told Nazi Germany about Icelandic architecture that blended with the land. He meant a mixture of German and Icelandic styles, such as his house at Skriðuklaustur, designed by the Hamburg architect Fritz Höger and, well, countrified by its Icelandic workmen, who substituted Icelandic river stones for square cut German ones. Ooops. Nice turf roof, though. Blending in.

He was trying to avoid this:

Albert Speer’s Volkshalle (Hall of the People): architecture that luckily never was.

What the American occupation of the war gave Gunnar’s East Iceland was this:

Dang. The poor man is turning over in his grave.

Got the turf right, though.

Gunnar Weaves the World with the Stony Face of Traditional Icelandic Verse

In the speech he read throughout the Third Reich in the spring of 1940, “Our Land” Gunnar spoke of how Icelandic rock rose in the chain-linked stanzas of traditional Icelandic verse. Here’s the gorge outside his house.

At its foot lies Melárett, the fold that was the largest public building in Iceland in his time, used to gather flocks in winter and separate them out, farm by farm: a place for people to work in unison, come together, and then separate by choice into their own private affairs.

I’m sure the two concepts were intimately linked in series in his mind. Hitler didn’t enjoy the suggestion, by the way.